Monthly Archives: May 2012

Bless

The kids are counting out coppers and dreaming of the day when they’ll have saved enough money for an expensive piece of Star Wars lego.

“But when you buy something on the computer, do you actually have to pay for it?” asks the five year old.

His brother rolls his eyes and says yes, with a sigh.

“But who do you give your money to?” persists the five year old.

*Pause*

The seven-year-old comes running to check this with me. I explain how debit cards work, and suggest that they could give me their money once they’ve saved enough, and then I could order it online, using my debit card.

I’m presented with a yellow plastic bowl of two pence pieces.

“There’s seven pounds in here. It won’t take very long till I have forty-five!”

My heart aches.

Learning to love Wild Things

I’m writing a feature for a newspaper about author Maurice Sendak, who died last week, and about how my children helped me learn to love his strange, discomfiting stories.

Were it not for their enthusiasm for dark, disturbing tales of Wild Things and boys falling out of bed and being baked into cakes, I would have missed out on the weird and wonderful world Sendak created.

Thanks, boys.

Now listen to this – Sendak himself reading Where The Wild Things Are. Just wonderful.

I’m not an award-winning blogger

So here’s a thing.

Some lovely person nominated me for a MAD Blog Award, and I was a teensy tiny bit hopeful that I might make the shortlist.

But I didn’t.

And yet I am quietly relieved.

Sour grapes, you might think. But truth be told, I just don’t think blogging is my thing.

It used to be. When I first started blogging – from a corner-desk, precariously nestled in a nook of the hallway in a bijous flat we shared with a friend in Camden Town – I never dreamed that it might lead to anything.

But blogging saved my soul. It gave me a ‘voice’ when I went from ‘me’ to ‘Mama’ – a precious, faceless place to process the stuff of motherhood.

And blogging saved my sanity. At a juncture in life when the wheels fell off my world, albeit only for a time, my blog was my magnetic North – a fixed point of reference where I could write the things I couldn’t say for crying, and dig for the diamonds that I was sure were buried in the dust.

And then blogging  helped my dreams come true. Feedback from friends and comments from perfect strangers conspired to make me realise that what I wanted – what I really, really wanted (zig-a-zig-ahh) – was to write. Properly. Beyond the cosy confines of my blog.

So I did. And now writing pays the rent – and that’s a dream come true.

But it doesn’t leave much place for blogging. And though I want to keep this space up, I can’t figure out what to do with it.

Blogging about our family life feels intrusive now. Intimacy and privacy are important to me – all the more so because I sometimes write about elements of our lives in newspapers and magazines. But there are firm boundaries to that, and it compels me to keep something back that’s just for us. The things that don’t appear on the printed page belong to a sacred space; they’re just not fodder for a blog.

And yet writing impersonal, newsy parenting stuff just bores me silly. Who cares what I, and scores of other bloggers, think about the same stories we’ve all read that day? Yawn.

Still – not becoming an award-winning blogger has come as something of a relief. I feel I’m off the hook. The pressure to post regularly or maintain a consistent ‘tone’ has gone. I can blog or not, it doesn’t matter. I don’t need to keep up some sort of standard in order to feel worthy of your vote.

So you could say that ‘losing’ in this way has brought me freedom. And the freedom to ditch the blog has helped me see that I do want to blog after all.

If, after a long day juggling deadlines, nurturing ideas and co-ercing children into small acts of obedience, I still make time to blog, then I want to focus on the things that breathe wind into my sails.

A blogger whom I admire beyond words says this by way of explanation for why she blogs:

“I hope to inspire and if I do, it is only because I am connected through a creative circuit to the constant flow of energy I draw from others who are far more amazing than me.”

I can’t be the only person who pushes back their chair on reading that – inhales deeply – and feels the compulsion to applaud.

That’s the kind of blog I want to read, and I want to blog about that kind of creative inspiration, anywhere and everywhere I find it.

In praise of play: do the things you love

It amazes me how easily children do the things they love. 

Play is their default setting. They don’t procrastinate about play – they prioritise it; squeezing the irritating necessities and obligations of life (such as putting shoes on and brushing teeth) around much more important pursuits, like defeating Droids and practicing mid-air karate moves on the trampoline.

In contrast, it amazes me how easily adults stop making time for the things they love.

We so often put off play until tomorrow – I’ve stopped bothering to buy the papers at the weekend because I so rarely seem to get round to reading them, and the dull task of sorting out unread papers for recycling only ends up standing in the way of other, more interesting pastimes. But cutting out the papers altogether is probably cutting off my nose to spite my face. What I ought to do is spend less time straightening the kitchen or tackling the laundry mountain, and more time lazing by the fire with the Sunday supplements.

The tantalising tower of unread books beside my bed is testament to the fact that I do intend to spend time languishing around, devouring fiction, but that the best laid plans of mice and busy mums are so often thwarted.

I aspire to be more like my kids. I am learning how to turn a blind eye to the things that will be long-forgotten in ten years’s time (like messy floors and toilets that won’t clean themselves) in order to turn my attention to the stuff that childhood memories are made of (like baking scones together and idling on the floor beside my kids, photographing them at play).

The things we love – the pastimes that most resemble play to our adult brains – can all too easily become the things that we do least. That strikes me as a travesty.

So I’m trying hard to follow my instinct for play – to listen carefully to the appetite and energy that seems to wake up, full of anticipation and enthusiasm, whenever I have even the smallest pocket of space available to be filled in any which way I choose. Instead of stuffing those moments full of laundry, stifling the playful urges and silencing the strands of creativity that bubble forth, I plan to stuff the laundry and make play my focus.

My plan is complicated by the fact that the thing I love has become the thing that pays my rent. That’s a luxury I don’t hold lightly or take for granted – to write for a living is a dream come true, but it limits my capacity to write purely for the love of it.

My playful part wants to play with words – to scribble down lines of fiction  before they float away, forgotten, or explore the wisps of a fully-formed character that seems to step forth from the shadows of my mind, entirely unbidden.

But if I write, I do so because it’s work, and playing with words gets relegated to some far-off day that might not ever come, if I don’t learn to play as though it’s the most important thing I could do.

Shoes have to be put on, and teeth must be brushed, but those things should be the bookends of and punctuation of a playful life.

I owe it to my kids to learn from them, and to teach them that one should never grow too old for play.